O slavery! Thou offspring of the devil…when wilt thou cease to exist?

John Smith was a 19th C. London Missionary Society missionary to Demerara, South America. He saw slavery first hand. He wrote in his diary: ‘O slavery! Thou offspring of the devil…when wilt thou cease to exist?’

Increasingly he found himself in conflict with the plantation authorities over such matters as physical maltreatment of the slaves or their being compelled to work on Sundays, and the very act of teaching the slaves to read was accurately regarded by the colonial authorities as having potential for subversion.

Brian Stanley, The Bible and the Flag, Apollos, 1990, p.87

…the planters and their political allies preceived evangelical missions to be a threat to their power and to the stability of colonial society. Relations between colonists and missionaries were never cordial and were frequently antagonistic.

ibid., p.90


John Smith (1790 – 1824) was a missionary whose experiences in the West Indies attracted the attention of the anti-slavery campaigner, William Wilberforce.

Smith arrived in Demerara under the auspices of the London Missionary Society in March, 1817. He lived at plantation Le Resouvenir, where he preached at Bethel Chapel, primarily attended by African slaves.

On the night of 17 August 1823, about ten to twelve thousand slaves drawn from plantations on the East Coast of the Demerara colony rebelled, under the belief that their masters were concealing news of the slaves’ emancipation.

Smith was subsequently charged with promoting discontent and dissatisfaction in the minds of the African slaves, exciting the slaves to rebel, and failing to notify the authorities that the slaves intended to rebel. In his trial he was defended by William Arrindell[1] and was sentenced to death. Wilberforce stepped in to arrange a reprieve, but, by the time it arrived, Smith had already perished as a result of the awful conditions in jail. His death was a major step forward in the campaign to abolish slavery.


  1. ^ The Solicitors’ Journal and Reporter. vol. VII. London: Yates and Alexander. 1863. pp. 266.
  • Costa, Emilia Viotti da (1994). “Crowns of Glory, Tears of Blood”. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-508298-2

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